Foresight: A wonderful promise but a less tempting investment.
Why companies are reluctant to invest in this methodology, and what we can do about it.
Foresight is a pretty scary word. It's somewhat magical, and at the same time difficult to ground it to our everyday work or reality. Not only the name of the framework seems a bit diffuse, but the process and outcomes seem hard to materialize into practical solutions that can be applied to services in the short term, and in a world where Agile and Scrum reign, it seems somewhat incompatible, so what we can do about this? How can we introduce foresight in a way that it can be compatible and enriching for companies existing processes and needs? What key points do we need to consider?
“Using foresight processes can look deceptively simple. There are however, a set of foresight principles common to all good foresight work even though there is no universal agreement about how they are described or understood.” (Conway, Maree. Foresight Infused Strategy: A How-To Guide for Using Foresight in Practice, 2016)
1. The first big barrier lies here. People like at least some level of certainty, and the idea of a diffuse process or practice does not put anyone at ease. Although there are five steps that define what must be done, it is less clear on the how we must do it, as the steps just describe generalities.
What we can do: Foresight swings between methodology and various different frameworks. It is important to distinguish what these are to the client and which one/s will better fit their needs, be clear as to what tools exist and at which stage they could be most useful.
Step 1. Environmental Scanning:
Identifying change that matters for your organization, done collaborative with outcomes shared widely, moving beyond trends to identify system drivers.
Frameworks that could be used and combined at this stage: Causal Layered Analysis, Systems mapping, Wilber’s Four Quadrants, SWOT or PESTLE analysis.
Step 2. Most consultants try to sell a finished package without really understanding client needs first and most of the time, the client notices.
Usually people become too focused on selling their services but don't take enough time to understand how foresight strategy needs to be inserted into a specific culture. If you are selling the same closed package to everyone, then probably you are doing something wrong.
What we can do: Take time to understand your client and ask deep questions about culture, meet with people in situ that are putting forward this need, observe company dynamics, understand why are they doing this now, what are their expectations/biases/fears, and tailor your service accordingly. Doing a workshop might greatly help, think of doing this and adding the price of it to the overall bill, present the workshop as a bonus. Like almost every other methodology, Foresight is a conceptual framework that helps us understand and see things in a new light: Framework appropriation can't be the same for everyone and we need to get some insights first.
Step 3. Most people (designers and clients alike) think about implementing Foresight in a small group or cell of people in a company and then build up from there. Changing this "go to"thinking is not easy.
We usually fall for this "MVP trap", our minds just go straight to this option, instead of thinking about doing an MVP implementation everywhere in the company, which is what it is recommended:
"The aim with foresight infused strategy is to reach the position where staff can see themselves in the preferred future that is developed — a preferred future that they want to help achieve. They will only feel this way if they have been involved in the development process." (Conway, Maree. Foresight Infused Strategy: A How-To Guide for Using Foresight in Practice, 2016)
What we can do: Start small and fast, but start everywhere, even more if you are working with big companies. Most of them, unknowingly, work in silos and each area has its objectives, budgets and tools. Seems like big companies are actually made of lots of smaller ones. It is important to align all visions to understand where we want to go.
Step 4. Most companies as scared because of the intangibility of Foresight infused strategies: It's hard to see their trace in the company. For some people even grasping the real meaning behind strategy is hard, although it is something they do every day.
Making our internal strategy thoughts and processes visible is difficult, and more so if we have to ground and make them tangible in a future scenario.
What we can do: Leave a toolkit behind that everyone can have access to. Once we are gone it will be easier for people to go back and retrieve frameworks and methodologies linked to the process people went through with us designers.
Thinking about the future is always hard, and convincing a client to make an investment to challenge his way of thought and his strategy process, which is what he is probably paid to do in some cases, seems even harder. Give your client some palpable things to hold on to that are not too far away from what he already knows, to enable him to grasp the fluidity of uncertainty later.